Monasticism in Lockdown America: Part 9, Psalms, In the End

Good Letters | 7/11/2018 | Staff
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Thinking of the psalms as a way to cycle through the entire range of human experience, I recently brought them with me into juvenile detention.

The kids there, on Sunday afternoons, shuffle through automated doors wearing orange jumpsuits and pink booties and take their seats shyly around bolted-down steel tables with me.

Boys - Girls - Bodies - Child - Composure

These are boys and girls who have likely seen, and felt on their bodies, and heard, what no child should have to see or feel or hear. And after absorbing all they’ve endured and trying to maintain composure, they have probably been kicked out of classrooms for not watching their tongues. For small outbursts, foul language, bad attitudes. Now, in detention, they spend most of their time in lockdown, in cells of their own, alone.

I look around the circle. A white girl’s hair is half-dyed pink. A Mexican boy’s cheek has a still fresh gang tattoo shining just under his eye. Six other kids sit slumped on their steel stools, quiet, guarded, used to being corrected.

Psalm - Psalm - Nastiness - News

The psalm I’ve always most hated is now the psalm with which I begin. Its nastiness is now good news to me.

We read Psalm 137, where the crushed psalmist was recently taken into captivity, his people’s families taken from them, most likely having witnessed rape and murder, and now they are slaves, nobodies. The psalm, the prayer, warms up asking how the **** they can sing to God when sitting in Babylon, in the system they hate? The final lines cease to address God entirely and delights in the fantasy of their captors’ babies being tossed against rocks.

And—what - Jail - Studies—no

And—what always surprises those in jail studies—no “amen.”

Kids look up from their Bibles after we finish reading it, all with big eyes.

Youth - Bible - God - Babies

I tell the youth, “This is in the Bible. Singing to God about killing babies. The very...
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